LIHUE — In a pair of letters sent to The Garden Island Monday, Hawaii Crop Improvement Association Executive Director Alicia Maluafiti described the conduct and videotaping of public hearings on Bill 2491 as “discriminatory” and “manipulative.”
The letters, originally dated Aug. 14, were addressed to Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-introduced the bill, and J Robertson, managing director of Hoike Kauai Community Television, Inc.
As of Tuesday morning, however, neither Hooser nor Robertson were aware of HCIA’s letters.
HCIA sent a final version of the letters to Hoike, Hooser, TGI and other council members Tuesday afternoon.
“The letters convey the discriminatory and manipulative manner in which council member Hooser chose to run his hearings … and the actions of Hoike’s staff mysteriously losing the middle half of a video with almost 50 percent of citizens’ testimony in opposition of Bill 2491, in effect giving an unfair advantage to proponents of the bill and, most appalling, stifling the speech of those opposed, many who waited for almost 13 hours to testify and get their voices heard,” wrote Thelma Dreyer, an account executive at Becker Communications, in an email Monday.
Bill 2491, in its current form, requires the four major seed companies and Kauai Coffee to disclose pesticide use and the presence of genetically modified crops.
It also calls for 500-foot, pesticide-free buffer zones around public areas and bodies of water; a temporary moratorium on the experimental use and commercial production of GM crops until the county has conducted an Environmental Impact Statement; and prohibits open-air testing of experimental pesticides and GMOs.
After passing the controversial proposal — introduced by Hooser and Councilman Tim Bynum — on first reading June 26, the council held a public hearing July 31, attended by more than 1,000 people, and a committee meeting Aug. 5.
The council’s Economic Development Committee deferred the bill to Sept. 9 to wait for an opinion from the attorney general.
Maluafiti said in a phone interview Tuesday that HCIA contends Hooser is nothing more than an “imbedded lobbyist,” using his abilities as chair of the county’s Economic Development Committee to push his own agenda.
“He’s turned the county legislative process into a circus,” she said. “He is Joe McCarthy and this is a 21st century witch hunt.”
Hooser said the accusatory letters are “obviously a public relations ploy,” and right out of the biotech companies’ playbook of attacking the messenger.
“This sounds like an Internet conspiracy theory,” he said of the letters.
Hooser said he was surprised to hear about HCIA’s complaints, which were voiced more than two weeks after the Aug. 5 committee meeting.
“Up until I saw a copy of the letter sent by their public relations department, no one at all had mentioned any dissatisfaction whatsoever about how that meeting was held,” he said. “Not one person.”
Letter to Hooser
In her letter to Hooser, Maluafiti wrote that the HCIA strongly protests the notification process for the latest hearing and said Hooser failed to notify those opposed to the bill in a timely manner.
“The late unofficial notification from the chair (Hooser) to a representative of the seed farm delegation, which took place after noon on the Friday prior to the Monday hearing, precluded the seed companies and other opponents of the bill from contacting expert testifiers,” she wrote.
Maluafiti said Hooser gave his own pro-bill experts ample notification, essentially stacking the cards in his favor.
“It appears the orchestration of the hearing and the invitations sent by the chair to selected Mainland-based organizations were designed to provide the committee exclusively with the opinions of only those experts on one side of the issue … Instead, the manner in which the hearing was noticed and then conducted could only strengthen the position of those who support the ordinance,” she wrote. “This, too, is discriminatory and has no place in the democratic process.”
Hooser said there is simply no basis for the accusations.
“It is unfortunate that the HCIA has to make these kinds of attacks,” he said. “If you look at the hearing, if you watch it or read the minutes, you will see that I conducted it even-handedly. It wasn’t lopsided in terms of representation.”
Hooser said that during the Aug. 5 meeting there was one representative from the Mainland that testified in support of the bill and one in opposition, along with two attorneys opposed and one in support.
If anything, Hooser said, the meeting was “lopsided the other way.”
Hooser also said there is no obligation or requirement for him, as chair, to line up equal testimony from the two sides; that the Aug. 5 meeting was conducted no differently from others; and that he personally invited the seed company representatives and reserved seats for them up front.
In regards to HCIA’s complaint about having to wait all day to testify, Hooser said, “Welcome to the public process.”
Maluafiti told TGI she will be looking into ethics and Sunshine Law violations by the county.
“There is a nexus between what (Hooser) is doing, with his role as a council member and his role as a board member of (Hawaii Organic Farming Association),” she said. “The intention is to knock out biotech.”
Letter to Hoike
In a letter to Robertson, Maluafiti outlined HCIA’s disappointment with Hoike, which videotaped the July 31 hearing, including several hours of testimony.
When the video was posted on the Hoike and the county websites, members of the HCIA were “shocked” to see that virtually all the testimony in opposition to the bill was missing, according to Maluafiti wrote in the letter.
“Hoike needs to sit down and take a look at what happened,” she said. “How do you coincidentally cut out the opposition testimony. That’s not an accident. That’s intentional.”
When members of the HCIA questioned Hoike staff, they were told there had been a “mistake” and a large portion of testimony had been lost, according to Maluafiti.
“The chances of losing almost all of the testimony given by those on one side of the issue seems highly unlikely,” she wrote. “We know from our experience and observations that members of the Hoike staff may be on the anti-biotech agriculture side of the issue. On the night of the hearing, for example, members of the pro-Bill 2491 group were seen sitting with some of the Hoike crew members.”
Robertson declined comment on HCIA’s accusations against the nonprofit. Hooser said it was “over the top” and “ludicrous” to imply the Hoike intentionally erased testimony.
So far, Hooser said the biotech companies have threatened the county with lawsuits and to run a high-cost public relations campaign against the bill.
“They have a well-funded public relations, communications campaign, and this is part of it,” he said. “Bogus telephone polls, spreading rumors — it’s indicative of the corporate mindset.”
Maluafiti wrote that it is “unconscionable and discriminatory” that the videos were posted and have remained on both websites.
To restore trust, HCIA has asked Hoike to remove the video from both sites; put up the testimony of those opposing the bill and run it exclusively for the length of time the “misleading mix of testimony” was on each site; conduct a thorough investigation to determine how this happened; and put in measures to ensure it does not happen again.
“We believe Hoike and community television on Kauai are too important to be subverted by the political agenda of individual staff members bent on providing an unfair advantage to those on one side of an issue,” Maluafiti wrote.
Hooser expressed frustration with HCIA questioning the integrity of Hoike and the council, calling it disruptive, counterproductive and a bit ridiculous.
“We’re on a community conversation path to deal with this issue,” he said. “And for these companies to now try to fan the flames is irresponsible.”
• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.